I freely admit to being a crazy animal person. I have loved animals all of my life; according to my mother, my first word was “lamb,” and my second word was “shoes,” but that’s a story for another day.
I began photographing animals on trips to the zoo with my parents. My mom would let me use her trusty Kodak Brownie camera as we wandered from exhibit to exhibit at the San Diego Zoo. When I got older, my dad bought me a Pentax K1000, the perfect camera for a budding animal photographer. I took thousands of pictures of zoo animals, as well as pictures of our dog, the neighbor’s dog, and my best friend’s cats. I have photo albums filled with these images, and although some are better than others, I still cherish those memories captured on film. I love that cameras are digital now and most of us just use the cameras on our phones, allowing us to take jillions of pictures and then delete the ones we deem less worthy of keeping or sharing. I’ve learned a lot photographing animals over the years, so I thought that sharing some of my tips might be helpful to you as well, particularly if you are trying to capture the perfect picture of your beloved pet.
First off, relax. All animals pick up on our anxiety and energy level, so if you’re relaxed, they will behave more normally. If your goal was to have all of the baboons at the zoo stare at you like you’ve lost your mind, then definitely dance around! If, however, you want those primates behaving as they would if you weren’t standing there with a camera, then relax. Plan to stay awhile and observe, camera ready. And don’t get frustrated! Some of my best wild animal photos were captured after sitting in front of an exhibit for an hour or more. My camera and I simply became “background noise” for the animals I wanted to photograph, leading them to behave as if I wasn’t even there.
Second, don’t always try to center the animal you’re photographing or try to insure that they are looking your way. Some of the most interesting animal images are those of animals caught off guard, staring into the distance, looking at the ground, or looking up in the air. I’ve also caught animals scratching, sniffing, yawning, and winking and those images are fun too. And not centering the animal you are photographing means you will capture a bit of their environment which makes for more interesting photos overall.
Third, do try to capture images that reflect the true nature of your subject. If, for example, your dog is a couch potato, then snapping pictures when he’s on the sofa, both awake and asleep, will be most representative. Play with angle and perspective; you can even lay on the floor and photograph your pets from there to get a better idea of their view on life.
And finally, it’s totally okay to hedge your bets to get a great face forward, attentive picture of your pets. You can use food, squeaky toys, etc. to get them to look right at you. If your dog is ball obsessed, a ball in your hand, held above your camera, means you will likely capture his intense gaze. If your pup is a chow hound, saying “cookie” could get you a head cock, but holding a cookie near your camera means you can capture the drool in the corner of his mouth! If you have trouble balancing your camera and the treat, try one of the Dog Treat Selfie Clips to make capturing the perfect, attentive image that much easier.
Do remember that most animals don’t like to be stared at, either with your own eyes or that “mechanical eye” that is your camera or phone. Capturing the perfect shot takes patience, perseverance, and a healthy dose of luck.